Introduction to Bikepacking

Published 2021-02-15

Do you love riding your bike and exploring new places? Do you have a strong sense of adventure, independence, reasonable fitness and good humour? Bikepacking could well be your next obsession!

What is bikepacking?

Bikepacking is multi-day, adventure riding following routes combining Great Rides, back-country roads, mountain bike tracks, sealed roads and more. Think of it as like tramping for cyclists except you’ll cover greater distances each day – maybe only 40km, maybe as much as 150km.

Why go bikepacking?

Distinct from traditional ‘cycle touring’ which generally follows highways and other public roads, bikepacking trips tend to head off into more remote territory where you can discover some of New Zealand’s most beautiful places at the perfect pace, while meeting the most interesting people. It can feel like stepping back in time, in a good way! Bikepacking's an activity full of adventure, physical and mental challenge, opportunities for bonding and a huge sense of personal achievement. 

Are there any other reasons?

Yes, many, including the fact that bikepacking in your home country is a low-carbon holiday option, even more so when you car-share or use public transport for your connections. You can also contribute to the greater good by spending money in local communities as well as spreading a philosophy of manaaki tangata and manaaki whenua (caring for people and the land) – bikepacking will give you ample time to think!

What sort of terrain can I expect?

A bit of everything – from the rail trails and groomed cycle paths of grade 1–2 Great Rides to Old Ghost Road-style singletrack, plus remote 4WD track and country roads. There may also be some sections of busier highway, although the general aim is to avoid them altogether or at least follow those with lowest possible traffic volumes and a shoulder lane. Read more about trail gradings here.

Do I need a special bike and gear?

Yes. In summary, you’re aiming for comfort rather than speed by way of a MTB-style bike; super-ergonomic set up; lightweight gear; and lean, efficient bike bags to carry everything you need with you. You can read more about bikes here, and packing here.

Bruce's sweet bikepacking set-up for the Kōpiko Aotearoa (Bruce Maunsell)

Can I ride the length of New Zealand?

Yes, you sure can. Your best bet is to follow the Tour Aotearoa route pioneered by the Kennett Brothers, which can be ridden at any time as well as the annual brevet event. Think you're up for it, or at least some of it? Find out more about the Tour Aotearoa here.

Where else can I go?

The options are endless! Whet your appetite with our Popular Bikepacking Routes, drawn from the Kennett Brothers' Bikepacking Aotearoa guidebook, which lists 20 in all. For more inspiration, connect in with the exploding New Zealand bikepacking communities, in person and online. Check out the Bikepacking New Zealand Facebook page – a locally focused group of riders keen to share useful, inspiring information including routes, bike hacks and kit recommendations.

Where do I sleep?

You essentially have two choices: built accommodation, including backpackers, cabins, motels, tramping huts or a friend’s house, or you can camp out in a small tent. You can also do a combo, of course. The advantage of camping is flexibility – you can stop for the night at any place where tenting is permitted. It’s also economical, of course. The disadvantage is the need to carry more gear – a tent, sleeping mat, cooking gear, etc. You can read more on our What to pack page.

The simplicity and beauty of a bikepacking camp (Justine Sanderson)

Can I bikepack all year round?

Of course you can! Summer is the optimum window, of course, and bikepacking is actually a great way to avoid the summer holiday crowds – just choose a more remote route away from the hotspots. But many journeys can be made all year round, allowing you to appreciate Spring flowering, Autumn foliage and striking snowy horizons as well as enjoy the benefits of off-peak travel.

Are there bikepacking events?

Yes – there are currently more than a dozen, commonly run by people who have dreamed up an epic route and want to share it with others. Most follow a ‘brevet’ format, a sometimes-timed (but not ‘win’-focussed) event encouraging a ‘bunch ride with your mates’ sort of vibe. Check out the Tour Aotearoa, Kōpiko Aotearoa, Kiwi Brevet or Flahute events and just follow your nose from there.

What about tours and shuttle services?

The innovation and growth around bikepacking in New Zealand has spurred many local shuttle and tour operators to create, support and promote trips around New Zealand. Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails’ national partner Adventure South NZ is a good place to start.

Thanks to the Kennett Brothers for providing heaps of top tips from their Bikepacking Aotearoa guidebook. You can find out more about the book and buy your copy here.